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"The birth of a new, democratic society was painful; we can’t sugar-coat the process"

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Eglė Vertelytė • Director

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- TORONTO 2017: Cineuropa sat down with Eglė Vertelytė, whose feature debut, Miracle, has screened in the Discovery section of Toronto after nine years in development

Eglė Vertelytė  • Director
(© IN SCRIPT)

Lithuanian director and scriptwriter Eglė Vertelytė started developing her feature debut, Miracle [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Eglė Vertelytė
film profile
]
, nine years ago; now the film has finally had its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival. Cineuropa had an extensive discussion with the director about the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, its effect on today’s society, the role of women and hidden nostalgia. 

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to set Miracle on a pig farm?
Eglė Vertelytė: Traditionally, pork has always been a conspicuous element of Lithuanian cuisine. Similarly, in Soviet times, pig farms were indispensable elements of the agriculture and landscape. Therefore, I chose the pig farm as a representation of a Lithuanian village and the Soviet economic system. Through the story of one pig farm, I wanted to show what has happened to the village and the system, and how an abrupt socio-economic change unfolded as the dramatic but, at the same time, comical life story of a strong woman and the people around her. The old system is a pig – Irena raised it, and then she had to bury it with her own two hands.

The once-powerful Irena is not respected any more by her peers. Is there a gender conflict or a power struggle?
I never thought about a gender conflict. Yes, Irena is a strong woman who carries a lot on her shoulders and who cannot allow herself to fail, as the men around her do. I saw, and still see, a lot of women in our country who appear to be stronger than men. But Irena lost her power not because she is a woman, but rather because the times have changed. I was more interested in the transition of power and the processes of re-adaptation, rather than a gender conflict. Our protagonist, Irena, who used to be a respected person in the community, cannot compete in the new system, because her old Soviet values and working methods are losing out to new, “sexy” Western promises that the American figure, Bernardas, is bringing. I was interested in how a person who completely loses their power and influence can re-adapt and reclaim their role within the community, and come back powerful again. People like this rarely accept defeat, and they seek to stay in power, no matter the system. Irena finds her own strategy to survive.

Recently, we have seen films coming from post-Soviet countries that revisit that early 1990s era. Is it a way to commemorate the past or a warning for the present?
In the early 1990s, I was still a kid, so I don’t aspire to an objective depiction, and I had no intention of commemorating the past. However, this period is still important to me because it was the time when I was growing up, and it indirectly shaped me as an adult individual. Therefore, reflecting on this crazy time helps me to understand more about where my generation comes from.

Also, reflecting on this period seems important because it helps us to better understand the people who surround us. A lot of people around me are still affected or traumatised by these years. Thus it seems important to show the dilemma of change from the human perspective, to show that people behave in different ways not because they are good or bad, but because they have to survive.

Why did you decide to give this 1970s/1980s Eastern European vibe to your picture?
One of the things I wanted from the visual aspect was to give the film an old-fashioned look. So, visually, it could evoke some Soviet films. I did it for the simple reason that I thought it would naturally relate to the time and the location, and would help to immerse the viewer in the world of the film more easily.

However, creating retro aesthetics or historical realism was never the biggest issue that we concentrated on. During our collaboration with DoP Emil Christov and production designer Ramūnas Rastauskas, we worked on, and talked more about, having slightly exaggerated looks, a theatrical composition, and going for well thought-out yet simple, almost primitive, looks with bright details. This strategy helped us to create a hyper-real feel in order to allow the audience to relate to it in a universal way.

Was capitalism the “Miracle”?
I am a strong believer in democracy, and I don’t even want to imagine how difficult it would be to live now if things had stayed the same. However, the miracle of rampant capitalism that came with democracy was quite cruel to some people, and the pain inflicted on people cannot be forgotten. There was so much pain in the birth of a new, democratic society, and there is no point in sugar-coating the process. 

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